The Ontario (Wis.) County Line — a 2,000-circulation weekly paper — posted its annual April Fools column on Wednesday and sent it to print subscribers on Thursday. By Friday, the prank story about Disney buying a beloved state trail had created such an uproar — state Capitol protests were being planned, says the story’s author — that the Wisconsin DNR had to issue a press release knocking down the report.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wants to assure the public that the DNR is not selling the Elroy-Sparta State Trail to Disney, as reported earlier today in an April Fools prank by The County Line newspaper in Ontario.
The article … was picked up by other news media [and] generated a number of constituent calls to the DNR and to local legislators from concerned citizens.
“Oh my God, this thing just boomeranged all over the state,” County Line editor Karen Parker told me on Saturday afternoon. “The worst thing is, our radio stations around here don’t spend any money on reporting, so they just read our news. Magnum Radio has 12 stations and they all read the story as a regular news story. The head PR flack [at the DNR] was not happy. They were getting all kinds of calls from people.” (The column had a”Lirpa Loof” warning, but many readers apparently didn’t figure out that that spelled April Fool backward.)
Parker, who has been the paper’s editor for 30 years, says: “I write one of these every year, and every year I get more absurd. I always do it as a lesson to people to be skeptical about why they read, but they never get it.”